Link is drawn between height of children and consumption of non-cow milk

Economist Eric Crampton has drawn attention to a paper in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition which shows an association between children drinking non-dairy milk, as opposed to cow’s milk, and lower heights.

Crampton’s post on his Offsetting Behaviour blog (HERE) is based on a press release (HERE) and he shows the link to the paper (HERE).

He writes:

The press release talks about associations but doesn’t say anything about causality. Nevertheless, the author goes on about the lack of regulation of protein content in non-dairy milk.

And hey, maybe that’s what’s going on. Reduced protein intake could be doing it.

But it looks like the paper doesn’t control for other part of kids’ diets. If it’s likely that kids on almond milk diets or soy milk diets are more likely to be on vegan diets overall or to have other weird diet issues that could also affect protein intake, it seems kinda odd not to adjust for other parts of the diet.

And while they exclude kids with growth-affecting disease from the study, they do include asthma. Some folks exclude dairy as part of trying to control asthma, and inhaled corticosteroids can suppress growth among kids (though they catch up later).

So it would be a bit premature to run the cross-price elasticities of milk with respect to non-dairy substitutes, multiply by the effect of supply management on milk prices to get the substitution into non-dairy because of supply management, then work out how much shorter supply management is making some Canadian kids.

The research was supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Institute of Human Development, Child and Youth Health, and the Institute of Nutrition, Metabolism, and Diabetes and St. Michael’s Hospital Foundation.

The researchers aimed to determine whether there is an association between non-cow milk consumption and lower height in childhood and assess whether cow milk consumption mediates the relation between non-cow milk consumption and height.

They give this background to their study:

Cow milk consumption in childhood has been associated with increased height, which is an important measure of children’s growth and development. Many parents are choosing non-cow milk beverages such as soy and almond milk because of perceived health benefits. However, non-cow milk contains less protein and fat than cow milk and may not have the same effect on height.

The authors say this was a cross-sectional study of 5034 healthy Canadian children aged 24–72 months enrolled in the Applied Research Group for Kids cohort. The primary exposure was the volume of non-cow milk consumption (number of 250-mL cups per day).

Multivariable linear regression was used to determine the association between non-cow milk consumption and height. A mediation analysis was conducted to explore whether cow milk consumption mediated the association between non-cow milk consumption and height.

Results: There was a dose-dependent association between higher noncow milk consumption and lower height (P < 0.0001). For each daily cup of noncow milk consumed, children were 0.4 cm (95% CI: 0.2, 0.8 cm) shorter. In the mediation analysis, lower cow milk consumption only partially mediated the association between noncow milk consumption and lower height. The height difference for a child aged 3 y consuming 3 cups noncow milk/d relative to 3 cups cow milk/d was 1.5 cm (95% CI: 0.8, 2.0 cm).

The paper’s conclusion is that non-cow milk consumption was associated with lower childhood height. Future research is needed to understand the causal relations between non-cow milk consumption and height.


AgResearch wins funding for High Value Nutrition projects

Beef that can reduce cholesterol levels, milk that reduces the risk of allergies in children and cow’s milk for people who are dairy-intolerant are the aims of AgResearch’s three successful projects in the latest High Value Nutrition contestable funding round.

The High Value Nutrition National Science Challenge’s focuses on foods with scientifically validated health benefits.

The research aims to increase value for New Zealand through proven health claims for food and beverage exports.

All three projects are funded for three years with $1 million each from the Challenge as well as co-investment from industry partners.

“Complex beef lipids for metabolic health” is led by Dr Emma Bermingham. She says meat from grass-fed animals may contain bioactive complex lipids that have the potential to improve metabolic health.

“We want to provide robust scientific evidence that consuming complex lipids extracted from New Zealand grass-fed red meat will lead to reduced cholesterol levels,” she says.

“We are working with Hawkes Bay company Firstlight Foods, which produces premium grass-fed Wagyu beef. We want to extract and understand the lipids from the fat, to both determine the health claims that can be made and also to develop a new range of products based on these.”

Reducing the risks of developing allergies in children is the aim of the project “Natural protection of milk” led by Dr Alison Hodgkinson. She is partnering with Miraka, the Māori-owned dairy processing and exporting company which is aiming to expand its business by diversifying into higher-value dairy products.

“There is an opportunity for ‘Growing Up’ – that is, toddler – milk powder that preserves the natural properties of milk, but in a safe, pasteurised, format. There’s a clear association between drinking farm milk and reduced incidence of allergy, but so far, there’s no processed milk product that retains those properties,” she says.

“With Miraka, we will develop a Growing Up milk product that retains the natural traits of milk and is proven to deliver added health benefits to toddlers.”

The third project, “a2 Milk™ for gut comfort”, is aimed at demonstrating the health benefits of a2 Milk for people who believe they are intolerant to cows’ milk and is led by Dr Matthew Barnett.

“We will be running human clinical studies to confirm the benefits of dairy products that are exclusively of the A2 protein type on increased gut comfort through preventing intestinal inflammation in some consumers,” he says.

“We’re partnering with the a2 Milk™ Company to show that their product can deliver the benefits of dairy to the rapidly growing dairy export markets of China and Southeast Asia, where many consumers believe they’re intolerant to dairy. If we’re successful, there’s a potential for significant increase in demand and revenue for the New Zealand dairy sector.”

Both this project and “Complex beef lipids for metabolic health” will involve clinical nutrition capability from the University of Auckland led by Professor David Cameron-Smith.

The funding announcement follows AgResearch’s success in the Priority Research programme, where it received $3.6 million for research into the relationship between nutrition and gut health.

AgResearch is working with four other teams that have  received grants in the Priority Research programme. They are Immune Health, led by the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research; Metabolic Health, led by the University of Auckland; and preliminary projects led by Massey University on the food science of health foods, and by Plant & Food Research on consumer insights in relation to food-for-health in our key markets with a focus on Asia.


Plant & Food Research awarded MBIE grant for Zespri kiwifruit research

Plant & Food Research has been awarded $1 million from the Ministry of Business & Innovation’s High Value Nutrition fund to work with Zespri on research into whether kiwifruit can help better manage blood glucose levels.

Zespri General Manager Marketing and Innovation Carol Ward says the funding will help further develop Zespri’s health strategy, providing scientific evidence of kiwifruit’s health benefits to underpin consumer communications around the world.

“This funding is great news: the results of this work could well give our consumers another reason to buy Zespri Kiwifruit, as kiwifruit volumes increase strongly. This will help grow our industry’s export revenue and returns to New Zealand growers,” says Ms Ward.

Dr Juliet Ansell, Zespri Innovation Leader for Health and Nutrition, says Zespri Kiwifruit has powerful health benefits and this is the basis of the company’s consumer communications in the 54 countries around the world in which Zespri Kiwifruit is sold.

“Our research shows that the more consumers know about the health benefits of kiwifruit, the more likely they are to see kiwifruit as an important nutritious addition to the daily diet. We want to build on our base of loyal, regular consumers who value the health benefits they get from eating kiwifruit,” says Dr Ansell.

Health marketing is increasingly important when taking into account global trends towards an aging population, rising middle classes in developing countries and increasing interest in healthy living.

Zespri has invested in health and nutrition research over the years and lodged the world’s first self-substantiated health claim for fresh fruit – and first-ever in NZ – under the Food Standards Australia-New Zealand (FSANZ) Standard for Nutrition, Health and Related Claims.

This funding will be made available over three years.